By Joe Orlando, CDCR Public Information Officer
Office of Public and Employee Communications
Forty-one students at Van Buren Elementary in Stockton were treated to an early Christmas present thanks to the work of youth offenders and volunteers.
The first Kicks for Kids Sock and Shoe Drive was recently sponsored by the N.A. Chaderjian and O.H. Close Youth Correctional Facilities (YCF) Foster Grandparent Program (FGP).
“It makes me really proud that we were able to come together, it just brings joy to these kids’ faces, and it’s the time of year to do something positive, and help people out,” said FGP Director Chris Mayfield.
FGP volunteers serve a critical role at both N.A. Chaderjian and O.H. Close YCF. The seniors sit in the school classrooms at the facility and encourage students to pay attention to the teacher. They also provide some direct assistance with schoolwork and homework.
FGP volunteers also share in free-time activities such as games, conversation or just listening.
Each teacher at Van Buren was asked to provide Principal Ione Ringen the names of two kids from their class most in need of the new sneakers and socks.
“Ninety-eight percent of our kids are on free or reduced lunch, so we do have a high poverty level, and there is a real need,” said Ringen.
Each student selected was given a new pair of sneakers, four pairs of socks and some candy.
They could open their present or not.
“Nope. I’m saving this for Christmas morning,” a third-grader said.
Another who ripped through her wrapping paper in a flash said, “Can I take it to my classroom and show the other kids?”
Foster Grandparent Program Advisory Council Member and retired Warden Mary Moppins-Lattimore said this is all too familiar. She attended Van Buren.
“I think I was about in second or third grade, and I come from a family of 12 from the same mom and dad, and I got called to the office and they gave me a shoe voucher to go to the store and to get a new pair of shoes. So I just thought, ‘What can I do to give back to the community?’”
The children delighted in showing each other what they received, and wanted to show their new sneakers and socks to family and friends.
“I never had such a nice pair of sneakers, I can’t wait to show everybody,” a fourth-grader said.
Principal Ringen explained just what these new sneakers meant to the kids and their self-esteem.
“If they’re not going to be able to come to school with shoes, they’re not going to be able to learn, or if their feet are hurting because they have the wrong size, they may be focused on that rather than what’s going on in the classroom, so it can be a distraction,” the principal said. “It’s about them feeling better about themselves, and proud of what they’re wearing.”
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the FGP at the two youth facilities. Superintendent Erin Brock may have said it best.
“Our grandparents are priceless, and have hearts of gold,” she said. “We love you.”